Bowling a family experience for owners of Rebelanes

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By M. Scott Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Matt Hartigan, 23, wouldn’t think to ask his 53-year-old dad to go outside for a game of football.

“Somebody would get hurt,” Matt said, “but we can bowl together.”

The Hartigans have it easier that most when it comes to bowling together because they own Rebelanes in Tupelo. The center belonged to an uncle, Herb Wall, for about 35 years. He visited the Hartigans in Binghamton, N.Y., in the late 1990s.

“He was looking to retire,” Lisa Hartigan, 48, said. “He wanted the family to continue with it. He and my husband got to talking. A year later, we were here.”

The family includes Lisa and Kevin Hartigan, along with their sons, Matt, Tim and Lucas, and Matt’s wife, Kaci.

And, yes, Yankees own Rebelanes.

“Nobody ever called us Yankees until we moved here,” Lisa said.

Don’t expect a name change to the bowling center that opened in 1958.

“No. No. No,” Matt said, raising his hands and shaking his head.

“The name was established,” Lisa said. “We would never alienate anybody.”

They’ve discovered that people in Northeast Mississippi usually have a connection to Rebelanes, even if they’re not regular bowlers.

“What I think is neat is you can talk to anyone in Tupelo and they have a bowling alley story,” Lisa said. “They either drove the loop, which goes by here, when they were in high school, or they had a birthday party here.”

“My wife had four birthday bowling pins in her room,” Matt said. “I said, ‘Where did you get those?’ She said, ‘Rebelanes.’ I probably saw her at the bowling alley before I met her.”

Competition

Rebelanes opens at 1 p.m. every day but Wednesday, when it opens at 9 a.m. to host special education groups and senior leagues.

There’s no set closing time, Lisa said, but it’s usually after midnight on weekends and 9:30 or 10 p.m. on weeknights.

“We close down when we slow down,” she said.

The business is about 60 percent league and 40 percent individual bowlers.

Debra Montgomery, 50, of Mantachie can be found at the lanes every Tuesday and Thursday. She talked about the fun, exercise and camaraderie, but lit up after mentioning competition.

“We’re not here for our looks,” Montgomery said. “Most of them love to bowl as much as I do.”

James Johnson, 55, has been visiting the lanes for about 15 years, except for a short break when he had knee surgery. He’s usually at Rebelanes every day but Monday, and that dedication is all about gaining an edge.

“You have to get to know your lanes and get to know the oil patterns,” he said. “When they oil the lanes, they have patterns that you have to get used to.”

Clyde Neelly, 13, of Saltillo, is in a league, but he was practicing with his 11-year-old brother Conner on a recent Tuesday night, while their mother sat at a table behind them and read.

“He beat me,” Clyde said. “I got 70 and he bowled 75.”

He has a ready excuse. Clyde usually bowls with a two-finger grip and averages around 150. He’s been experimenting with a three-finger grip, and his scores have reflected it. It’s kind of like several years ago when Tiger Woods changed his golf swing.

“This will be better, long run,” Clyde said.

Equipment

These days, bowling has something else in common with golf.

“Go to a golf course with one club,” Matt said.

Some bowlers will have as many as eight balls. That might seem odd to old-school bowlers, but today’s equipment is specialized.

Some balls are designed to curve early, others curve late. Porous ball covers grip the lanes on their way to the pins.

There’s even a bowling ball that smells like butterscotch candy. It probably won’t increase anyone’s score, but maybe giving opponents quick sniffs of the ball will be enough to throw them off their games for a frame or two.

“Balls also have different interior cores than they used to,” Matt said. “They weigh six to nine pounds, and they are designed to knock pins over.”

High school teams

He said high school bowlers that practice at Rebelanes like to have the latest equipment. Before the mid-2000s, there weren’t high school teams in Mississippi. Kevin helped get the program started, and now some 60 high schools have teams.

“We are the home house for five high schools,” Lisa said, and listed off Tupelo, Pontotoc, East Union, and Nettleton high schools, as well as Tupelo Christian Preparatory School.

The high school bowlers aren’t charged for regular practice time and shoe rental, but they still contribute to Rebelanes’ bottom line at the pro shop, the arcade and the snack bar, as well as during their individual practice time.

On Feb. 11, the bowling center will host a high school tournament. Boys will bowl in the morning and girls will bowl in the afternoon.

“It’s something to see,” Matt said. “We set up bleachers.”

College and beyond

College scholarships are available for dedicated bowlers. Lisa’s son, Tim, is on a bowling scholarship at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn., and recently competed in a tournament in Chicago.

“I don’t know if we can say the amount,” Lisa said. “It’s not a full-ride scholarship, but it’s pretty good.”

“He’s not eating peanut butter sandwiches,” Matt said.

Lucas is on the bowling team at TCPS, and also plays football, basketball and baseball.

Matt is the acknowledged “heir to the throne” at Rebelanes.

“I love it here,” he said. “I just love the people and everything about it.”

He also enjoys the physical act of bowling, though he’s been kicked off more than a few lanes over the years to make room for paying customers.

“Sometimes, it’s hard for Matt to get his bowling in,” Lisa said.

“My dad said, ‘If you were a garbage man on your day off, would you pick up trash?’” Matt said.

Though picking up a spare isn’t the same as picking up trash.

“Matt is a better bowler than me, but I would never say which of the three boys is best,” Lisa said. “It depends on how sharp they are on that day.”

Her husband has dealt with some knee issues, so he hasn’t bowled in recent years.

“We could talk him into it if we had to,” Matt said with a grin.

Lisa said part of bowling’s charm is the fact just about anybody can do it, even if they can’t do as well as they might like.

“It’s a sport of a lifetime. You can do it from 3 to 93,” she said. “Parents can do it with their kids. Grandparents can do it with their grandchildren.”

“That’s what’s so great about it,” Matt said.

scott.morris@journalinc.com